The Dessoff Choirs will be presenting WORDPLAY, a Mid-Winter festival in various venues around New York City from January 15 through March 16. The festival kicks off on January 15 with Movable Type, a choral concert that pays tribute to the poetry of Harlem Renaissance author and poet, Langston Hughes.
The program features the NY Premiere of “Five By Langston,” by Ricky Ian Gordon. Mr. Gordon returns to the festival on February 7th with a solo performance, Self Portrait: Ricky Ian Gordon. In this Q&A, Mr. Gordon discusses his relationship with poetry and Langston Hughes, his one man show, and his upcoming projects.
You have a very strong connection to poetry that seems to inspire a lot of your work, can you describe this relationship?
When I was a child, my older sister, Susan, would put me to bed by reading me poetry. It is for this reason that poetry became balm for me...something I have always turned to order my life. I set poems to music because by doing so, they enter me like fresh water and they seem to clear away the cobwebs, at least temporarily, until it is time to do it again. It is like putting the right info into my hard drive as an antidote to all the spam. Poetry is often, my savior. Langston Hughes, more than any other, has served that role...perhaps because of his simplicity, his economy, and his depth...as well as his inherent musicality.
Can you describe your relationship with Langston Hughes? When did it begin and what drew you to his poetry?
I started researching African-American poets. He [Langston Hughes] is a poet that is able to say a lot with great economy. It was profundity, mixed with economy. I also started reading about him and he was obsessed with records and recordings. All of his poems felt like lyrics, they had a great natural rhythm to them. They were poems you could set to music and make a statement musically with. You could dance with the lyrics and make a lot happen with them. A lot of them are mantra-like.
You recently released Silver Rain, an album inspired by Langston Hughes, can you describe that?
Silver Rain is an album that was released in 2012 that I worked on with soprano Nicole Cabell. It has 21 songs I wrote based on the poetry of Langston Hughes.
You are also performing a one man show on February 7th, what can we expect from Self Portrait: Ricky Ian Gordon?
I’ll be discussing my relationship with poetry, what texts I choose to set to music and why. My program is a bit autobiographic, and I’ll tell stories about my writing process which relates to my life. I will recite poems, sing them and play them. I’ll also play my own pieces and discuss my operas and what I’m working on at the moment.
What current projects are you working on?
I’m working on a piece for Houston Grand Opera, “A Coffin in Egypt” based on a Horton Foote play.
I am also writing new pieces for the St. Louis Opera, for Stephanie Blythe and “Mourning Star” for The Cincinnati Opera. In addition, my autobiographic opera “Green Sneakers” will have its NY Premiere at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook in April.
For more information about The Dessoff Choirs WORDPLAY Mid-Winter Festival, please visit dessoff.org.
Tuesday, January 15 - Movable Type
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcom X Boulevard at 135th Street, 7:30pm
Thursday, February 7 – Self Portrait: Ricky Ian Gordon
Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium, 417 East 61st Street, 8:00pm.